If you’re considering starting a whole food, plant based diet, because you have heard all about the amazing health benefits, but have no idea what it actually includes, then this blog post is for you! And if you’ve been vegan for a while, and want to make your diet even healthier, then definitely stick around.
In this post, you’ll learn exactly what you can and cannot eat on the whole food, plant based diet. Honestly, this is a lifestyle, not a diet, because it’s something that you can enjoy your whole life, without cravings, guilt, or shame, and all while maintaining the perfect weight and experiencing incredible health benefits.
And the best part? Studies have demonstrated that sticking to this lifestyle is extremely easy, and adherence rates are much higher than on many other diets out there. You’ll easily stick to plant based eating once you experience how amazing you feel eating this way!
It can be quite confusing to know how to eat when you just start out on a whole food, plant based diet. So if you’re not sure how to shop or make food choices without constantly googling everything, then these guidelines will serve you really well!
Why I am So Excited About the Whole Food Plant Based Diet
Before we dive in to what is included on a whole food, plant based diet, let’s talk about how incredible this lifestyle really is!
From my personal story and all of the clients I have worked with, I’ve learned that transitioning to a whole food plant based diet has two incredible impacts: emotional and physical.
The physical one has been well documented via studies and extensive research, showing that it can help you lose weight without struggle or counting calories, and to sustain that weight loss long term. It can also aid in preventing chronic disease like Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases.
Moreover, eating this way can even reverse heart disease, and it is the only diet that has ever been shown to do so.
I have seen many of my clients reverse conditions like painful and abnormal PMS, allergies, arthritis, and more. They have also lost weight and gained more energy than they have ever had, waking up without an alarm and getting excited for the day!
Personally, I’ve experienced a reversal of my terrible PMS cramps, from having to take 10 painkillers a day to survive, to not having to take any painkillers at all and being able to be moderately physically active on my period! It has been a massive blessing, turning my PMS from a disability to completely normal.
The biggest transformation on a whole food plant based diet that I have experienced has been emotional: emerging from constant anxiety and PTSD symptoms, to healing, and learning to breathe through the emotional pain of my past.
As a survivor of sexual assault, my greatest struggle was getting through the day without having massive anxiety that would bog me down so much that I could no longer function.
As I transitioned to a whole food plant based diet, I slowly grew an understanding and appreciation of myself and my own body, which I have never experienced before.
The lessons continue to emerge, and I invite you to observe this amazing transformation within yourself as well. Once you begin to feed your body the food that it thrives on, you’ll see a shift in so many aspects of your life: your stress levels, your mood, your sleep, and most importantly, a feeling of invigoration and happiness that you haven’t experienced before.
The science somewhat grasps this emotional shift by documenting the impact of this lifestyle on anxiety and depression. But to experience it yourself is so much more powerful than any journal article, so I invite you to dive fully in for a few weeks, and witness the changes that will happen in your body.
A Whole Food, Plant Based Diet: Simple Guidelines
Now that you know why transitioning to a whole food plant based diet is absolutely worth it, here is a simple description of the guidelines to follow.
Contrary to popular belief, esteemed researcher Dr. Dean Ornish has found that the guidelines of a whole food plant based diet are extremely easy to follow, so much so that adherence rates in his studies were excellent, even after 5 years.
The biggest reason is how amazing this diet will make you feel. So much so, that it will quickly turn from a diet to a lifestyle that you enjoy and find fun to follow! So even though this diet is extremely different than the typical Western diet that you may currently be consuming, have no fear – I promise that once you take the plunge, sticking to it will be a joy!
A whole food, plant based diet can be explained using the following two very simple guidelines:
- Plant foods. This means that the diet is composed entirely of plant foods, and nothing coming from animals, and so, it is vegan. The list of plant foods you can eat is almost endless, because there are over 20,000 species of edible plants on the planet. So it’s much easier to discuss what you cannot eat: animals and their by-products. This includes fish, meat of all kinds, meat, dairy, eggs, and honey.
- Whole foods. This second guideline showcases why a whole food, plant based diet is not the same as a vegan diet. Besides excluding animals and their products, this diet also excludes highly processed and refined foods like white flours, refined grains of all kinds, and various other processed foods that include ingredients you’ve never heard of. For more clear guidelines on choosing whole foods, check out this detailed post about reading labels. While this can be tricky, once you learn it, it becomes really easy to identify a processed food, and removing it from your diet will make a huge impact on your energy levels, mental clarity, and overall health.
A Whole Food, Plant Based Diet: The Main Food Groups
So, what is it that we eat on this incredible lifestyle?
Start by getting most of your calories from whole foods that are comprised predominantly of carbohydrates (think the produce section of your grocery store). Now, I know you’re scared reading that, because carbohydrates are believed to cause weight gain. Contrary to popular belief and abundant diet myths, carbs will help you lose fat (they have less calories than fat and protein, when comparing the same volume of food), as well as reversing disease like diabetes and heart disease.
Here are the two food groups rich in carbohydrates to get the majority of your calories from:
- Starches. These include tubers like root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, etc.), whole grains (whole wheat, buckwheat, quinoa, etc.), and legumes (such as beans and lentils).
- Fruits. Let your imagination run wild and eat fruit in abundance! The 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study (the largest study in history to analyze risk factors for death and disease) has shown that the leading cause of death and disability in the USA was diet, and the worst aspect of this diet was not eating enough fruit.
Personally, I prefer enjoying a fruit-heavy meal for breakfast and lunch, and a starch-heavy meal for dinner (and sometimes for lunch). But it truly doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you make these foods the base of your diet.
In addition, enjoy these groups as an accompaniment to your carb-heavy meals:
- Non-Starchy Vegetables. While veggies like tomatoes, kale, spinach, etc. are also rich in carbohydrates, they are not rich in calories, so making them the caloric-basis for your diet would be tough. However, it’s important to consume them daily and abundantly.
- Raw whole plant fats. These include avocadoes, nuts, and seeds. Enjoy these in moderation, especially along with your vegetables to encourage absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals.
- Miscellaneous foods like condiments, spices and seasons, and seaweeds are delicious for providing more flavor to your food! Make sure you are choosing these wisely, and avoiding processed ingredients as this (anywhere that is not the produce section) is an easy place to rely on processed foods. Be sure to use this post to guide you.
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